With extra fees on luggage allowance to seat selection and even to print your boarding pass, budget flights may not give you the best value.
We love to travel, and we love scrambling for cheap air tickets. But before you click “buy”, ask yourself: is it really possible that your flight costs less than S$50? Sometimes, you’ll find out too late that there are (expensive) strings attached.
Here are some hidden fees to check for.
Comparison Sites Don't Display the Final Price
You may have experienced this before. You click on a flight on a comparison site, that costs S$180. But when you click through to the carrier's website, you see the price is now a little higher, like $187. Why does this happen?
The simple answer is: because they can. There’s no legal way to stop an airline from raising its price this way - they’re not obliged to maintain the price you saw on the comparison site. And if you bother to make a phone call, you’ll just be told the price was “recently updated”.
In reality, airlines often post “teaser prices” on comparison sites, which may not be entirely accurate. And when prices are close enough, a difference of S$10 or so is sometimes enough to get them ranked “cheapest”.
They also know that, by the time you bother to click on the link and fill in forms, you’ll be too lazy to leave just on the basis of a few dollars (besides, the other airlines might do it to you as well).
It’s deceitful, but there isn’t a lot anyone can do about it.
Airport Taxes are Sometimes Excluded
Often, when you see an outrageously low price such as S$20, it's a good bet that the budget airline has excluded airport taxes. These are the fees that airlines have to pay for using the runway, getting the plane maintained, using air traffic services, etc.
With commercial airlines (and even many budget carriers), this tax is included as part of the fare. However, some shady airlines exclude the airport tax, just to be ranked as the cheapest ticket on a search engine.
When you try to buy the ticket, you’ll might realise the fare, after including airport taxes, is S$150 to S$200 more. There’s no way to fly without paying these taxes, so always check if what you’re seeing is the full ticket price.
Once you add airport taxes, you'll realise that some carriers are far from being the cheapest option.
Extra Fees for Luggage
Practically every budget airline only quote the base price. In other words, the fare involves moving you - and only you - to a particular destination. Anything else, such as luggage you may have, is an extra cost.
Bringing your luggage may cost anything from S$15, to absurd amounts like over S$60 for a mere three kilos. Alternatively, the base fare may include luggage, but in such a small amount that you’re basically forced to pay for excess weight (e.g. the carrier may allow nothing more than one small backpack).
Be aware of this when you're booking a budget flight through a third-party or price comparison site. You're likely being charged a "flight only" price, and may have to separately purchase luggage allowance - at a higher price.
Boarding Pass Printing Fee
We think this is ridiculous in the age of the Internet, but here’s how it is: if you don’t print out your own boarding pass, the airline may do it for you - but at a fee of between S$5 to S$10.
There’s really no justification for this, other than that they can do it to you. It’s not as if you’ll cancel your flight otherwise.
Presently, this only applies when you opt to skip the queue via self check-in. If you dutifully arrive early and check in via the counters, your boarding pass should still be provided for free.
But still, just imagine arriving at the airport just in time to board (having checked-in over the Internet the night before) only to have to pony up the additional charge because you left your boarding pass at home. Not a very nice way to start your holiday, is it?
Seat Selection Fees
Some budget airlines require added payment, if you want to choose your seats. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the plane’s allocation system.
The worst part is, you have to pay to select your seat even if it’s a regular one. For example, some people deliberately want to sit near the pantry, or want a window seat. It might be understandable, even on bigger airlines, to have to pay for the convenience.
But when it comes to budget airlines, you might be charged S$5 to S$10 even for selecting a normal seat. This often means paying money, just for small things like being able to sit with your spouse.
Absurdly Overpriced In-flight Meals
We recommend you load up your tummy at the airport, because in-flight meals are overpriced beyond belief. A simple sandwich and coffee can cost upward of S$10 on some budget airlines, whereas a full meal (e.g. something with rice and meat) might range between S$15 and S$25.
On top of the crazy prices, the airline food tends to be on the level of cheap cafeteria food. It’s almost never worth paying for.
Credit Card Fee Charges
If you're paying for your budget tickets using a credit card, be prepared to pay extra - up to as much as S$18, or even more.
No other industry gets away with charging you just to use your credit card, so budget airlines are special this way. Again though, there isn’t much you can do about it - just take a deep breath, and be prepared for the total to be much higher than what you saw on the comparison site.
Just remember that, once you get the final price, it’s time to go back and compare the other budget airlines. You may find the cheapest/most expensive are quite different, from what the price comparison sites claim.